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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The War Machines


Starring: William Hartnell
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 25 August 2008

Landing in contemporary 1966 London, The Doctor and his companion Dodo go with one of the Doctor's hunches and investigate the newly opened Post Office Tower which contains a modern marvel, WOTAN a sentient computer built by Professor Brett. What was to become a boon for all mankind has an agenda of its own, having deemed the human race an inferior species, it determines to dominate them by building The War Machines…

The War Machines is a four episode, William Hartnell, story which was originally transmitted between 25/6/66 and 16/7/66. It was written by Ian Stuart Black, from an original idea by Kit Pedlar, and directed Michael Ferguson. It represented the last story of Doctor Who’s fourth season. The story was also noteworthy as it had Dodo (Jackie Lane) leaving, as the companion, to be replaced by Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills).

Viewed retrospectively the show has elements which will now seem quaint, such as the bar scene. Others, such as the idea of a sentient computer, are still the stuff of our future. That said, it cannot be denied that this is a fairly simply constructed Who tale, with the Doctor turning up just in time to avert WOTAN’s master plan. It does show what the series would eventually evolve into and is often thought of as the first of a type of story which would be eventually dominated by UNIT. It also has the Doctor displaying a level of natural confidence which would allow him to walk just about anywhere without being challenged. A little unreal but as a convenient device it allows the plot to continue.

One thing which lets the story down is the design for the war machines which look nothing more than what it is, a very non-scary plywood box which trundles along unconvincingly. Now, compare this with the Daleks, a design which is still being used today.

The disc is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and, whilst the picture is a little soft, it's amazing that, given that the show has had to be reconstructed, the joins really don’t show. The final DVD is a credit to the restoration team’s work.

The older the show the harder it must be to find relevant extras without them feeling like filler and until now this has never been the case, but I feel that there is too much material which relates to the Post Office Tower, which okay, appeared in the show, but it draws the focus away from the episodes.

First up we have a full length commentary by Anneke Wills and Michael Ferguson which is well worth a listen. We also get Now and Then (6 min, 41 sec) which is the usual scout around the location filming sights, looking at how they appear now. There is a short anthology of Blue Peter shows (16 min, 16 sec), some of which focus on the Tower itself whilst other have more about the show in their content. One Foot in the Past (7 min, 32 sec) is an excerpt from a BBC 2 show which has Tony Benn, the ex Postmaster General talking about his regrets over the tower.

One extra that is really worth watching is WOTAN Assembly (9 min, 15 sec) which looks at how the show had to be pieced back together, following its destruction by the BBC, from bits and pieces garnered from sources across the planet. The rest of the extras are made up of much smaller items such as the Radio Times listings; designs for the war machines in PDF format; production notes; subs; and a photo gallery. This may not seem as much as some of the more recent Who DVD’s but then its age limits what can be provided.


Charles Packer

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